Thursday, August 28, 2014

St. Augustine

Statue of St. Augustine, Pavia, Italy
I have grown so much in love for this great Doctor of the Church, whose memory the Church commemorates today.

At the beginning of this year, on the very first day of 2014, in fact, I was privileged to visit his tomb in Pavia, just south of Milan, with my close friend, Fr. Marc.

It is a quiet church, with a stunningly beautiful medieval marble "arc" built over the tomb.

I read a few of Pope Benedict's catecheses on this saint (a must read really), in this church. He devoted five Wednesday audiences to preach about his beloved Augustine. I felt a real warmth, as well as sadness (oh I miss him!), on reading the Pope Emeritus' teachings in this very spot, which he himself had visited as Supreme Pontiff in 2007.

This paragraph from his fourth catechesis was especially powerful. One can see here the Holy Father's love for St. Augustine shining forth, a love that I too share.
A fresco in the Lateran that dates back to the fourth century shows that the iconographical tradition already depicted St Augustine with a book in his hand, suggesting, of course, his literary opus which had such a strong influence on the Christian mentality and Christian thought, but it also suggests his love for books and reading as well as his knowledge of the great culture of the past. At his death he left nothing, Possidius recounts, but "recommended that the library of the church with all the codes be kept carefully for future generations", especially those of his own works. In these, Possidius stresses, Augustine is "ever alive" and benefits his readers, although "I believe that those who were able to see and listen to him were able to draw greater benefit from being in touch with him when he himself was speaking in church, and especially those who experienced his daily life among the people" (Vita Augustini, 31). Yes, for us too it would have been beautiful to be able to hear him speaking. Nonetheless, he is truly alive in his writings and present in us, and so we too see the enduring vitality of the faith to which he devoted his entire life.
And here, in the fifth, and last, catechesis:
Augustine converted to Christ who is truth and love, followed him throughout his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God. This is why I wanted to ideally conclude my Pilgrimage to Pavia by consigning to the Church and to the world, before the tomb of this great lover of God, my first Encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est. I owe much, in fact, especially in the first part, to Augustine's thought. Even today, as in his time, humanity needs to know and above all to live this fundamental reality: God is love, and the encounter with him is the only response to the restlessness of the human heart; a heart inhabited by hope, still perhaps obscure and unconscious in many of our contemporaries but which already today opens us Christians to the future, so much so that St Paul wrote that "in this hope we were saved" (Rom 8: 24). I wished to devote my second Encyclical to hope, Spe Salvi, and it is also largely indebted to Augustine and his encounter with God. 
Pope St. John Paul II also devoted a Wednesday Audience to St. Augustine, back on August 28, 1986. My homily at Mass earlier today was on the three errors of the young Augustine that Pope John Paul alluded to:
... first, a mistaken, account of the relationship between reason and faith, so that he would have to choose between them; second, in the supposed contrast between Christ and the Church, with the consequent conviction that it was necessary to abandon the Church in order to belong more fully to Christ; and third, the desire to free himself from the consciousness of sin, not by means of the remission of sin through the working of grace, but by means of the denial of the involvement of human responsibility in the sin itself ...

Photos from the Church of St. Augustine in Pavia follow:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A day in the life of ...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014. Memorial of St. Monica

6:50 am Alarm goes off (5 minutes later than usual). Morning offering. Get up. Check phone (real quick don't dawdle!), check blood pressure (normal, phew), cup of tea, Divine Office/meditation, get ready for Mass

8:30 am Holy Mass

9:05 am Bowl of cereal, some phone calls, emails. Shower. Meanwhile, more messages, email, and one from a funeral home.

10:15 am first appointment. Word comes through that one of our Auxiliaries is trying to get a hold of me. [What? What did I do?] Call his office, leave message

11:00 am second appointment

11:45 am Appointment (made just this morning), doesn't show. Mental note to contact person later. Couple of more emails. Get stuff out of sacristy to take to new campus for Adoration tonight.

12:05 pm lunch in my room. [Reading: "The Mass: A Study of the Roman Rite" by Adrian Fortescue]

12:20 pm Head to funeral home to bless a body. Catholic family, not very active. Since the Blessed Sacrament is in the car with me, chant (Adoro te Devote) and pray.

1:10 pm Head to our new campus/parish office. Get Adoration paraphernalia into chapel, Blessed Sacrament into the Tabernacle. Clear out mailbox (more messages).

1:45 pm Soccer Field: the entire parish school has gathered for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The Principal, staff, and athletes are taking the challenge, having been tagged by the local Catholic high school. Give a brief talk about why we're donating to the JPII Medical Research Institute, and the immorality of embryonic-stem-cell research. The parents of a school alumnus who died at the age of 26 from ALS are present and acknowledged. Lots of fun and good cheer.

SJS Staff and students get doused!
2:15 pm A bit of a breather. Pray. Emails, messages, looking at calendars. Some phone tag. Get file ready for next appointment. Post +ABG's Ice Bucket Challenge vid to social media.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

So I accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge ...

... after having pointed out the ethical problems in donating to the ALSA, the main recipient of donations from the viral social-media phenomenon.

Fr. Michael Duffy mentioned the John Paul II Medical Research Institute as an acceptable alternative.

So, after the Sunday evening Mass, I gathered a few folks, and this is what ensued.


Today, I am finally getting around to sending off that check to the JP2MRI ... and guess what, they're getting more than expected traffic on their website. I suspect it's because of the increased publicity they're getting. Cool!  


Google gives the address of the JP2MRI as

540 E Jefferson St, Iowa City, IA 52245

Send them a check! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Centenary of the Death of Pope St. Pius X


August 20 marks the centenary of the death of Pope St. Pius X (reigned 1903-1914). A simple parish priest, who was later elevated to the episcopacy, made a Cardinal, and then Patriarch of Venice, and eventually was elected to the Throne of St. Peter (after the last exercise of the Imperial veto prevented the favorite, Cardinal Mariano Rompolla from being elected), he never forgot his experience as a parish priest. He had a burning love for the Most Holy Eucharist, and it was his desire that children receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament early, at the age of reason, that led to the current shape of the Sacraments of Initiation by children in the Western Church -- Baptism, First Holy Communion followed by Confirmation. He was an ardent reformer (his motto, "Omnia Instaurare in Christo" -- "To restore all things in Christ"), with a real love for the liturgy: he promoted Gregorian chant (which was not much in use in his day -- that hasn't changed) as the music native to the Roman Rite, as well as the Breviary, while commissioning a new translation of the Vulgate, a Catechism and the codification of Canon Law (which work was completed by his successor, Benedict XIV in 1917, giving the Church the first ever Code of Canon Law). A staunch defender of true doctrine, he combatted various modern philosophical and intellectual errors, with the encyclicals Lamentabili Sane Exitu (1907) and Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1910), as well as introducing the Oath against Modernism. He dreaded the coming of war to Europe, and died heartbroken a few weeks after it started. He was canonized in 1954, in a ceremony with nearly 800,000 attending, by Pope Pius XII.

[A short online biography of the saintly Pope.]

1954 was also the year in which the Diocese of Atlanta was formed from the 71 northern counties of the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta (the co-Cathedral being added to the Diocese of Savannah in 1936). Thus, Pope St. Pius X was chosen as the co-Patron of the new Diocese, after the Most Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Cathedral being dedicated to Our Blessed Lord, Christ the King). The See was elevated to Metropolitan status in 1962.

My chalice (a gift from my mother, which I acquired at an online churchware site) has a connection to Pope St. Pius X. Inside the base plate are the words, "Offert Par PP Pie X" (in French -- "Offered by Pope Pius X) and his motto, "Omnia Instaurare in Christo." According to the dealer notes, this chalice, made in the Vatican during the reign of Pope Pius IX (his arms are on the node), was a gift to the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon, by Pope Pius X. I have no real way of verifying this claim, however. Still, it gives me great joy to think that the chalice that has come into my stewardship for the duration of my priesthood in this earthly life, was associated with this saintly Pope.






In 1955, Pope St. Pius X's feast was assigned to September 5, which is when it is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, as a feast of the IIIrd class. In the reformed calendar, his feast is an obligatory Memorial, celebrated on August 21, the day after his death (August 20 being reserved to St. Bernard, a Doctor of the Church).

Through the intercession of St. Pius X, may we gain a greater love and zeal for the Most Holy Eucharist, a love for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a desire to learn and defend the true faith against errors and heresy, and may be invite the Holy Spirit to make all things new in Christ in our own lives.

UPDATE: I forgot completely to mention the first-class relic of Pope St. Pius X which I acquired in seminary.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Life in Christ: Twenty Years On


Twenty years ago today, on this great Solemnity of Our Lady, I was baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, to rise with Him in the Resurrection. I was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and received my Lord and Savior in the Most Holy Eucharist for the first time as I was incorporated into his Mystical Body, His Bride, the Church,

What a ride it's been! The Lord's mercies are everlasting! In a talk back in 2001, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said these remarkable words, which burned into my soul as I read them the night of his election to the Throne of St. Peter:

"Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. ... I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin."

I know this to be so true. He has sought me in so many ways all these years. I have returned but a meager love, a paltry love, halting and meandering; a reluctant, reticent, repentance; a heart mired in self-love, that hearkens still to the sibilant sound of sin; a heart that has been and is, so haughty and oh so prideful. Yet He loves.

Yet He loves.

He never stops. His grace, one sweet drop at a time, burning and delightful, tears down the walls of pride, and heals the wayward will. The old man dies, as the new man laboriously comes forth.

Absorbeat quaeso, Domine, mentem meam et cor meum, ignita et meliflua vis amoris tui, de omnibus quae in mundo sunt, ut amore amoris tui moriar, qui amore amoris mei dignatus es mori.

"May my soul and my heart, O Lord, be absorbed, I pray, by the fiery honey-like power of your love, from all that is in the world, so that I may die for love of your love, who deigned to die for love of my love." (St. Francis)

Sweet Mother, who have been so faithful, so devoted to me, this unworthy fool, draw me ever closer to Him. On this anniversary of my consecration to Christ in holy baptism, I consecrate myself again to you, to your Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Pray that one day after traversing this land of exile, I will rejoice with you and the Heavenly Host, to behold Him face to face, your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, the desire of the nations, my Lord, my Savior, my King, my joy, my love, my all.

Please join me in praying a Te Deum today!

[This was posted on Facebook on August 14, 2014] 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

:: UPDATE: I accepted the challenge. See post. 

Folks, this "Ice Bucket Challenge" from the ALS Association has been doing the rounds and going viral. It's a good cause, to support research into ending this terrible neurodegenerative disease (aka "Lou Gehrig's Disease"). I had been tagged in one of videos and was actually thinking of a creative way to douse myself with ice water (ok not much creativity required there), while also donating.

There's a problem however.

The ALS Association apparently supports embryonic stem-cell research. The have actively lobbied for the expansion of federal funding for ESCR. This means that part of the money you donate will be used to do research on tiny innocent human beings. The ALSA page on stem cell therapy only hints at "ethical questions" raised by ESCR, but doesn't say more at all, and goes on to talk about the potential of this research. There is no way, therefore, that I can support this challenge, or give money to a cause, no matter how worthy, which also involves the destruction of innocent human life.

Research involving stem cells from adult tissue (bone marrow, spinal fluid, etc.) is not only very promising, but does not involve the destruction of innocent human persons.

We definitely need to support those who are looking for a medical cure for ALS, or any of the other horrific diseases that afflict humanity. But doing evil directly, so good may come of it,is never permissible.

I am sharing a link from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City which lists major organizations that actively support or not support embryonic stem cell research. This is worth paying attention to.

On a completely separate note, a Time magazine article I link in the comments raises some other questions about this kind of a social media blitz. It's worth taking a look at. (Ironically, the author alludes to the principle of "ends not justifying the means." He uses it to talk about the nature of the media campaign. However, he seems unaware of the ethical issues surrounding embryonic stem-cell research.)

[I originally posted this on Facebook.]

Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Family Life Office: Survey of Medical Research Foundations & Associations.

Time: "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, we need to do better." 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bom Jesus


I've been to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa several times. It is a beautiful and powerful experience each time. Last summer was the first time I offered Mass at the tomb of the great missionary, St. Francis Xavier. The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is one of the top tourist destinations in Goa, a state otherwise known for its beaches and susegad, a carefree approach to life (and alcohol), uncharacteristic of the rest of India.

Last year, the Rector of the Basilica shared stories of miraculous healings, as well as exorcisms associated with the relics of St. Francis, and of folks coming from far away, even non-Christians, who had heard of the saint's powerful intercession. He also let me venerate one of the first class relics of the Saint, which is kept at the foot of the altar of the tomb.

Panorama of the Sacristy
Yesterday, the Rector was out of town, but had left instructions with the Sacristan to set up for Mass for me. The sacristy itself is simply stunning, with several relics of holy martyrs, and beautiful artwork. I arrived early (by Indian standards), just before 10:00 a.m. There were few tourists and pilgrims. I had brought along my 1962 travel Missal and altar cards. With no congregation, I figured this would be an excellent time to offer Mass in the usus antiquior (even without a maniple, or a chalice veil and burse!). As with other sites of pilgrimage, one is able to offer the Mass of the patronal feast throughout the year.

Visiting priests normally offer Mass on an altar on the side of the tomb. There is little room there for any congregation. A metal grate, normally locked, seals access from the corridor. My (Hindu) cousin had came along with me, and he stayed for Mass. Soon after Mass started, I became aware of someone assisting, on the other side of the grate. It was an older gentleman, who heard Mass quietly and received Holy Communion.



The incorrupt remains of the holy saint attract the faithful as well as the curious. This year is the decennial exhibition of his relics, from Nov. 22, 2014 through Jan 4, 2015. They're expecting up to 5 million to attend, and though the Holy Father was invited, he will not be attending.

The website of the basilica.

The rather threadbare Wikipedia entry.

The rest of the photos from this year's visit.

Last year's photos